Ravens owe 3-0 start to de­fen­sive front seven

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS INSIDER - Mike Pre­ston mike.pre­ston@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/MikePre­stonSun

JACK­SONVILLE, FLA. — The Ravens have played only three games this sea­son, but it’s safe to con­clude that the de­fen­sive front seven will have to carry this team in 2016.

De­fenses are usu­ally ahead of of­fenses in the first quar­ter of the sea­son, and the Ravens’ front seven is young and hun­gry.

“I think we’re still com­ing into our own,” Ravens out­side line­backer Ter­rell Suggs said. “We still have a lot of young guys, de­spite this year be­ing Year 14 for me.”

No one is get­ting car­ried away with the front seven be­cause the Ravens have beaten the Buf­falo Bills, Cleve­land Browns and Jack­sonville Jaguars to open the sea­son. The Ravens held Jack­sonville to 216 yards of of­fense Sun­day in a 19-17 win, and the Jaguars were just as es­sen­tial to the vic­tory as the Ravens.

They were miss­ing two start­ing of­fen­sive line­men in left tackle Kelvin Beachum and cen­ter Bran­don Lin­der. This league has be­come so aw­ful that a team like the Ravens can com­mit three turnovers and still win on the road.

But some things are start­ing to come to­gether for the Ravens on the de­fen­sive line, and their lineback­ers are do­ing well with­out Suggs per­form­ing at a Pro Bowl level or fel­low out­side line­backer Elvis Dumervil play­ing at all.

With the game on the line, the Ravens held Jack­sonville to three points on three se­ries that started in­side the Ravens 39-yard line. With 3:06 left in the game, Ravens de­fen­sive line­man Brent Urban blocked a 52-yard field-goal at­tempt by Ja­son My­ers to pre­vent the Jaguars from grab­bing a four-point lead. The Ravens’ Brent Urban (96) blocks a 52-yard field-goal at­tempt in the fourth quar­ter.

In­stead, the Ravens went 22 yards in eight plays to set up a 22-yard gamewin­ning field goal by Justin Tucker.

On Sun­day, the Ravens used a five-man ro­ta­tion on the de­fen­sive line with re­serves Urban and Michael Pierce mix­ing in with start­ing de­fen­sive tackle Timmy Jerni­gan, nose tackle Bran­don Wil­liams and the ver­sa­tile Lawrence Guy. They all can play any po­si­tion, but Jerni­gan is the pen­e­tra­tor, the player with the lethal first step.

He had one sack and was cred­ited with knock­ing down two passes, even though Blake Bor­tles threw one of those mis­fired passes into his hel­met.

Pierce usu­ally subs in for Wil­liams, but there were times Sun­day when the two played along­side each other. On one side, there was the 339-pound Pierce, and on the other, the 340-pound Wil­liams.

The Ravens haven’t had this much qual­ity beef up front since 2000, with Tony Si­ra­gusa and Sam Adams. No won­der the Jaguars had just 48 yards rush­ing.

And then there is Guy, who had one sack and one quar­ter­back hurry.

“We used ev­ery de­fen­sive line­man that was ac­ti­vated to­day,” Guy said. “We were able to keep ev­ery­body fresh, and all of our guys can play as a starter.”

Be­cause of their abil­ity to tie up two block­ers, Wil­liams and Pierce have a big ef­fect on the lineback­ers, es­pe­cially C.J. Mosley in the mid­dle. Af­ter a rough start in the opener against Buf­falo, Mosley has played well run­ning side­line to side­line. More im­por­tantly, he is bet­ter in pass cov­er­age than a year ago, when he played on the weak side and teams iso­lated quicker re­ceivers against him.

Mosley made a one-handed in­ter­cep­tion late in the first quar­ter against Jack­sonville. The play showed great ath­leti­cism, but what was more im­pres­sive was the depth on his drop. He was 27 yards back from the line of scrim­mage when he snagged the ball.

Mosley has some­thing to prove. He is run­ning the de­fense, fill­ing in for de­parted vet­eran Daryl Smith, and the Ravens have two new start­ing lineback­ers in Zachary Orr and Al­bert McClel­lan. McClel­lan has had op­por­tu­ni­ties to start be­fore but didn’t hold the po­si­tion.

Orr played well in the pre­sea­son a year ago but seemed to dis­ap­pear once the reg­u­lar sea­son started. With McClel­lan play­ing well and Za’Dar­ius Smith and Ka­malei Cor­rea spell­ing Suggs at times, the Ravens tired out Jack­sonville.

The big­gest dif­fer­ence from last year is that the Ravens are get­ting con­sis­tent pres­sure. Bor­tles made some plays Sun­day be­cause of his scram­bling abil­ity, but the Ravens of­ten forced him out of the pocket.

They also didn’t quit. Time and time again, they had to go back onto the field af­ter a turnover by the Ravens of­fense.

“When we turn it over, we want to get the ball back and give it to our of­fense again,” Guy said. “That’s Raven foot­ball.”

It’s nec­es­sary in or­der for the Ravens to play win­ning foot­ball. Right now, their of­fense has no rhythm. Flacco is out of sync and can go from set­ting a team record for com­ple­tions in the first half to be­com­ing a Bor­tles fac­sim­ile in the sec­ond. The Ravens have no run­ning game be­cause they can’t con­trol the line of scrim­mage, and they don’t have a dy­namic back who can ac­cel­er­ate through holes.

The sec­ondary is still sus­pect, even though safety Eric Wed­dle is play­ing well. The only con­sis­tent groups are the kick­ers and the de­fen­sive front.

The front seven car­ried the Ravens on Sun­day, and that’s go­ing to have to be the case for the rest of the year.

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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